Community Organising – the church success story making the headlines

Amidst the horror of recent news stories, one Sunday newspaper’s headline came as a welcome relief. The story was good news. But more than just being good news, it was a story about the success of a campaign which churches have played a vital role in. “Pay rise for 60,000 workers after surge in firms signing up to living wage” said the headline. It was the opening salvo it what has, so far, been a week of overwhelmingly positive coverage for the Living Wage. It’s no coincidence that this is Living Wage Week – in fact the Mayor of London visited both a small coffee shop and the glamourous stage of Google’s HQ to announce the new rate for the Living Wage - £9.15 per hour in London and £7.85 outside the capital.

The Observer article contained details of how Barclays, Goldman Sachs and ITV now pay the Living Wage, but the real story came in another article elsewhere in the paper. “In the mid-1990s, a group of 15 trade unionists and community activists, some from faith groups, met in Limehouse in east London” said the story. But that underplays the reality. Since that meeting, and the formal beginning of the Living Wage campaign in 2001, faith groups and specifically churches have been the driving force behind it.

This should of course, be no surprise. The modern concept of a Living Wage was first brought into the mainstream by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 (his Papal Encyclical Rerum Novarum is a fundamental building block of Catholic Social Teaching). But of course the concept goes back much further. Numerous Biblical stories tell of the folly of employers not paying workers enough to live on.

James 5 1-4 says, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”

So while politicians, big companies and others now begin to extol the virtues of the Living Wage, it’s worth remembering that Christians have been faithfully campaigning for many years to make this happen. In the UK, the primary vehicle for this has been Citizens UK – the Community Organising alliance which is now made up of over 300 civil society institutions. Half of those groups are churches – from Salvation Army to Quakers, Roman Catholics to Pentecostals, and many Anglicans too! It’s clear that Community Organising is one of the most significant social movements in which Christians are engaged in 21st Century Britain.

Wages aren’t the only issue on which these churches campaign, either. Fairer rules in the asylum system, more ethical banking, better social housing, safer streets and many other issues are also on the agenda – especially in the run up to the next General Election.

In light of these exciting developments, Fulcrum is keen to help other churches engage with community organising and learn how we might help to grow God’s Kingdom using some of the same tools.

So, with that in mind, our next Pivot^Point event is looking at just that. Canon Dr Angus Ritchie is the Director of the Centre for Theology & Community and has been involved in the Living Wage Campaign since its earliest days. He’ll give a theological framework of community organising and some examples of churches taking action for the common good. Caitlin Burbridge is a Community Organiser with Citizens UK in Hackney – she will share stories of the churches she’s working with and the ways in which they’re transforming their communities. There’ll also be time for questions. The event takes place on Wed 12th November at St Peter’s, Bethnal Green at 7.30 (for 8pm). All you need to do to join us is click this link and register for free!

1 thought on “Community Organising – the church success story making the headlines”

  1. We may laud the Living Wage achievement as a blow for fairness and ethical business practices.

    The apostles participated in Community Organising when they sat the multitudes down in readiness to be miraculously fed by five loaves and two fishes.

    The problem for some was that harnessing Christ’s power to supply of their temporal earthly needs became their focus of their efforts and a distraction from seeking the eternally sustaining relationship with Christ.

    In John 6, we are told of how Jesus perceptively exposed the motives of the crowds that crossed the Lake to Capernaum. They talk at Christ at cross-purposes because of they are more preoccupied with the ability to fulfil earthly needs than in Christ’s ability to fulfil their need for eternal forgiveness:

    Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (‭John‬ ‭6‬:‭26-27‬ NIV)

    Methinks that Community Organising may result in the same cross purposes, with other community partners viewing extraordinary successes not as extending God’s kingdom, but to be pursued as ends in themselves.

    Community Organisers will always need to be as blunt as Christ was and not carefully hiding their light under a bushel by pretending that everyone knows what we believe.

    The eternal Bread is the blessing of invincible life through the life-transforming encounter with the Lamb of God as the sole means if forgiveness for our universally sinful humanity.

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